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Thursday, July 19, 2018

In St. Lucia, the cult of West Indies cricketer Darren Sammy

Former West Indies T20 captain, the only active player who has a stadium named after him, is a popular figure in this nick of woods

Written by Sandip G | Gros Islet | Updated: August 7, 2016 9:35:38 am
Darren Sammy, Sammy, West Indies Cricket Board, West Indies Cricket, WICB, Darren Sammy sacked, Sammy sacked,WI T20I captain, Cricket news, Cricket Darren Sammy led West Indies to World T20I win. (Source: AP)

THE GREAT Carribean pacemen have ends named after them. Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner in Bridgetown. Michael Holding and Courtney Walsh in Kingston. Curtly Ambrose and Andy Roberts in North Sound. Their great batsmen have stands and pavilions in their honour.

The three Ws sit together in Bridgetown. George Headley has one to his name in Sabina Park. So do Jeffrey Stollmeyer and Brian Lara in Queen’s Park Oval. But of all the 307 cricketers to have put on the maroon cap, only two have an entire international stadium named after them. Sir Vivian Richards and Darren Sammy, two players who wouldn’t often find articulation in the same sentence, except when the topic of the conversation is stadiums in the Caribbean.

Here are two men of diverse statures in world cricket-one a bona fide legend, who would walk into any all-time best XI in any form (though Richards hasn’t ever played T20s, there are little reasons to suggest he would have come a cropper), and the other is a cricketer of humbler gifts, whose otherwise modest contributions to the West Indies cricket is uplifted by the fact that he was the skipper when West Indies won both their World T20 titles. Many opine he just happened to be there, though it can’t be disputed that Sammy was a fine leader of men, a unifying force when West Indies cricket was at its divisive worst.
However, a stadium named after him sounds little overreaching. A stand or pavilion perhaps. While Richards had a stadium built in his name several years after he retired, Sammy is still playing.

Hence, there’s an irrepressibly mockful undertone, that Sammy has a stadium to his name by the sole virtue of him being the first and only three cricketers from the tiny island of St. Lucia, more famous for yachts and billionaire bungalows than for its cricketing or sporting pedigree.

But being a first is indeed a virtue, for the primary reason that it’s the first, especially in the context of St. Lucia. For years, the island in particular, and Windward Island in general, was a cricketing backwater. Just 21 cricketers have ever played for the West Indies from these island clusters. Winston Davis, the fast bowler, was their first big name out of these islands. Then came wicket-keeper Junior Murray. Davis lost out to the golden generation of West Indies pace bowling. Murray was one of the many keepers of his generations who were unlucky to judged by the gold standards set by their immediate predecessor, the silken Jeffrey Dujon. None, though, were what you can call inspirational or talismanic.

Sammy, though, is both for his island, much fought over by the French and British for several centuries. Before Sammy, the presiding figure of the island was the great nobel-prize winning poet Derek Walcott, born in Castries in 1930 to an Afro-Caribbean mother and English father. But his emotional connect with the masses was more intellectual. Sammy, though, is a public hero that cuts across the appalling economic divides of the nation.

In every restaurant, there is a Sammy memorabilia-a glove he had gifted, a ball or bat he has signed or a framed photograph of him with the owner or the staff.

Every bearer in every restaurant will tell you it’s Sammy’s favourite rendezvous or show on the menu card his favourite dish. There are even recipes names after him like the Darren Sammy’s bouyon beef, a soup with chunks of beef and vegetables.
Apparel stores follow like a norm to hang a Sammy jersey on the display. Most of them have a rich collection of Sammy’s jerseys and the various franchisees he represents. You can find foreigners quizzically asking the salesmen who he is. “Is he kind of a
singer or a footballer?”

His greatest legacy to the island is of course cricket. “The sport was always popular here, but more kids started playing it only after Sammy became this popular. Now you walk on the beaches, you can find at a least a 50 kids playing cricket and all wanting to be Sammy. They were all inspired by his story from humble background to a multi-million superstars. Across the island, you can also find several sports stores and cricketing coaching centres named after him,” says Stephen Emerick, a ground staff at the stadium from his same parish.

Sammy was born 54 kilometres to the east of Castries, called Micould on the east coast of the Island. His father Wilson made his living from a small banana plantation but gave it up to drive a minibus when the tourism industry took over the island. Seeing his father’s struggle to meet the ends of the five-member family, Sammy promised him to gift his father a new bus when he became rich. He kept his word, and months after he broke into the West Indies team, he kept his word. “He showed us, irrespective of your background, you could be someone great in your life,” he said.

A devout adventist family they were, his mother Clara wanted him to be a pastor. She insisted on him going to the church everyday. He became a god-fearing child and he also learned cricket there.

He became a regular in the church team and always dominated the secondary schools church cricket competition. But his parents didn’t have money to support his interests and St Lucia at that time didn’t have much cricket coaching centres. He had to borrow money from his grand parents to attend an age-group national selection trials. “Everything he learned, he learned by himself. There was no one to teach or guide him. So, he’s an ideal role model for every kid,” he said. Eventually, it was a school principal who convinced Clara to let the budding all-rounder chase his cricket dream.

Also endearing is his humility. Even after he became a captain and star, he remained humble and mostly free of controversies, not falling into the trappings of celebrity-hood, unflinchingly upholding to his faith in good and bad times. Sure, he will take his sacking as the T20 skipper with the same equanimous composure.

It’s for Sammy they throng the stadium for Caribbean Premier League matches here. Sammy celebrated it with a 35-ball 59 in his first outing after being renamed. “There are other stars, but it’s for Sammy that they come here cheering. You’d never see such crowd for ODIs or Tests,” says Stephen. Three days on, the third Test will begin at the Darren Sammy National Stadium without Sammy walking out into the middle. It will be the rarest of rare instances when an active player who has a stadium names after him doesn’t figure at all in a match of this consequence. A glorious irony in this sport of glorious uncertainties.

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